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Life Starts to Return to Normal in Iraq - 2003-06-05

While it will take a long time to undo the damage done by Saddam Hussein's years in power, there are definite signs conditions in Iraq are starting to improve.

No matter where you go in Baghdad, there are signs that while life may be filled with frustration, and severe traffic jams are one of them, the city is slowly managing to get back on its feet.

Grocery stores are open, their shelves are filled and they are doing a brisk business. Restaurants are open.

While drivers still have to line up to buy fuel, the lines seem to be getting shorter. And there are fewer people on the sides of roads selling fuel on the black market.

Electricity still goes off and on throughout Baghdad but much less frequently than just a week ago.

And hospitals are up and running, just weeks after being severely looted. Though they remain in deplorable condition by just about any standard, the hospitals are taking in patients.

Dr. Mehdi Jasin Moussa, the director of the al-Yaumouk Hospital in Baghdad acknowledges doctoring is difficult these days, but he says the hospital is practicing medicine.

"It is functioning, but with most difficulty because of unstable current of electricity and by a shortage of water supply," said Dr. Moussa. "Also we have some problems in sewage disposal. Concerning the medicine, I think we have a good situation now. Medicine, drugs and what we need for our work."

The streets seem to be safer. Two weeks ago it was rare to see a woman, even in the middle of the day. Now, there are many.

Schools have reopened.

Three weeks ago police were nowhere to be found. Today, they are working with coalition forces making arrests and patrolling the streets.

Bernard Kierk, a former New York City police commissioner, is heading the coalition effort to rebuild Iraq's police forces. He said the crime situation in Baghdad is greatly improved.

"The number of incidents are dropping," he explained. "The number of patrols have increased substantially over the last two weeks. On the 16 of May we had 412 patrols throughout the streets of Baghdad. Last night we had 807."

Coalition forces are also working to get dangerous weapons off the streets. Iraqis have until June 14 to voluntarily turn in any large military-style weapons. However, so far the two-week grace period has not produced much of a response. As of Wednesday 300 guns had been handed over.

Getting guns off the streets is viewed as crucial in the effort to cut down on ambush attacks against coalition forces.

Specialist Kevin Solberg, with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, stands watch at a Baghdad intersection. He said despite the attacks, he hasn't become overly cautious.

"We've been here long enough that we're in close quarters [contact] with the Iraqi people," he said. "We talk to them. We go on patrols. So, we're used to being close, talking to the Iraqi people. I mean, we're still alert, but it doesn't make us overly suspicious of everyone."

The World Food Program's distribution of 440 tons of food began this week. The food ration program is designed to help feed all of Iraq's 26 million people.

Work programs will soon begin, helping hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Iraqis, many of them former soldiers, get jobs.

It is a slow process. For many Iraqis, it is too slow and it is still easy to find instances of anger and frustration.

But in interviews with VOA, many Iraqis say they feel something they never felt under the regime of Saddam Hussein: hope for a better tomorrow.